After six weeks — yes! — of solid high pressure, sun and temperatures in the 50s and 60s, warm moist air and cold air collided over the Sierra Crest … and meant business.
When the 100-mph winds finally died down and the skies cleared, the Tahoe area had received 6 to 8 feet of snow over the course of a week. Apparently this is considered normal around here — several weeks of sun and calm followed by a cycle of storms. Reno got about a foot, being in the weather shadow, so the sagebrush has a pretty dusting, but roads are clear.
waterhouse peak: world-class tree skiing
Once the weather calmed down and the snowpack settled a bit, it was time to get after it and go get some turns.
Mike and I, along with Tom, Sean, and Tom’s pooch Chester, headed south to Luther Pass and Waterhouse Peak, south of Lake Tahoe.
To quote the guidebook,
“Clark Waterhouse looked over much of this area from the Angora fire lookout tower many years ago. The old-growth trees are sheltered and shaded . . .”
We looked forward to skiing among some of the largest trees in the area. The forests around Lake Tahoe had been cut during the Comstock mining boom, but the boom must have busted before anyone made it down to Luther Pass.
We had a blast skiing among comically large red fir, Ponderosa and white pine, mountain hemlock.
After following an existing trail for a short way, it headed off in a direction we didn’t want to take. That meant breaking trail through 2 feet of fluffy snow. The four of us took turns, 15-20 minutes at a time, before stepping aside for a break.
About halfway up the peak, we intersected an existing skin track and there was much rejoicing. The trip to the top continued at a faster pace, and everyone enjoyed well deserved snacks and drinks at the summit!
Trailbreaking uphill in deep snow is a lot like work, but the descent more than made up for it. We saw only a few other people that day, which was especially nice. It felt like we almost had the whole mountain to ourselves.
The snow was soft, deep, and untracked — everything you could ask for on a backcountry day. This is why we prefer going uphill under our own power instead of paying to ride the lift at the resort.
Chester had a rough time, though. He tried his best to keep up, but it was exhausting for him because he sank in deep with every step. Tom brought him back to the truck to rest after one run, and we went up for another run.
One thing to watch out for when skiing in thick trees like this is to not get separated from the group. It can be hard to follow tracks if there are others on the slope, and once one is out of earshot, it’s hard to see through the trees, making reuniting difficult to impossible. So one must keep that in mind when skiing with others in the Big Forest!